News / Asia

S. Korean Rebellion Plot Turns Spotlight on Spy Agency

Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
On September 4, South Korea's parliament for the first time voted to prosecute one of its lawmakers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in favor of North Korea. The lawmaker and the North Koreans are denying the allegation and instead accusing South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, of fabricating it for political purposes. 
 
Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) last week arrested Lee Seok-ki and three other members of his Unified Progressive Party for treason and violating the National Security Law.
 
The NIS alleges they plotted an armed rebellion against their own country in the event of war with North Korea.
 
South Korean media say the group, known as the Revolutionary Organization, planned to steal weapons and attack oil and communication facilities.
 
Korea's National Assembly, for the first time, voted to strip Lee of his parliamentary immunity, and the ruling Saenuri party of President Park Geun-hye is calling for his expulsion.
 
North Korea's state media on Sunday rejected any link between the South Korean lawmaker and Pyongyang, describing the charges as a “farce” to spoil improving relations between the two Koreas.
 
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the case is historic.
 
He said there were some cases in the past related to plotting rebellion, but there has never been a case where an incumbent lawmaker was accused of plotting rebellion.  Such a case happening these days, he said, seems almost impossible.
 
It is not the first time that Lee Seok-ki has been arrested for subversion related to North Korea.  
 
A decade ago he was jailed for participating in an underground political party accused of having links with Pyongyang.  Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but received a presidential pardon.
 
His UPP is a small, left-wing party with only six of 298 seats in parliament.  But some of its rhetoric leads many to believe they are more than just sympathetic to North Korea.
 
The party is one of the most outspoken advocates of removing the United States military presence from South Korea, despite the security assurance it provides against possible attacks from the North.  And even though Pyongyang routinely threatens Washington and Seoul, Lee has been quoted in South Korean media saying it is the U.S., not North Korea, creating tensions on the peninsula.
 
However, the South Korean lawmaker denies the rebellion charges.  
 
He said the clock of South Korea’s democracy has stopped as of today...The politics of South Korea is missing, he added, and the politics of the National Intelligence Service has begun.  He said his Unified Progressive Party will trust South Korean citizens and strongly fight to protect democracy.
 
Lee and the UPP accuse the NIS and conservatives of leading a “witch hunt” to distract attention from a scandal over last year's presidential election. 
 
Former director Won Sei-hoon is on trial accused of ordering NIS agents to post comments online against liberal candidates and praising conservative ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency.
 
Hundreds of Koreans have gathered in recent months for candlelit protests against NIS abuses, and calling for the spy agency to be reformed.
 
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the fact that the NIS was involved in wrongdoing or illegal activities cannot be denied. Lee’s case happened while people were pointing out the NIS’s wrongdoings.  He said the crime of plotting rebellion was applied to Lee, but he is not sure if it really is plotting rebellion.  He added that he considers it suspicious whether or not there is a case.
 
South Korea's spy agency and conservative governments have a history of arresting and punishing left-wing opponents, sometimes in concert, under the pretense of suppressing communism and pro-Pyongyang groups.
 
South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, established the 1948 National Security Law to halt the spread of communism, but also used it to arrest thousands of people, many of them student activists.
 
The National Security law is criticized for suppressing freedom of speech and association, making it illegal to praise North Korea or contact any of its agents without permission.
 
South Korea also blocks pro-North Korea websites and arrests distributors of propaganda, including those who re-send links through Twitter.
 
Defenders of the harsh laws say they are necessary because of the continuing threat posed by North Korea.  
 
Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center, a think tank in Seoul, said the National Security Law of South Korea is the same as the Patriot Act in the United States.  Since South Korea and North Korea stand face to face, he said, South Korea needs a special law for the crimes related to spying, rebellion and incursion.  
 
South Korea has thwarted assassination plots by North Korean agents over the years. In more recent times, the NIS has arrested South Koreans accused of helping the North carry out cyber attacks.
 
The NIS declined an interview request from VOA saying they are not commenting on Lee's case.
 
South Korea's main liberal opposition, the Democratic Party, supported removing Lee's immunity.  But it also warned conservatives not to turn the case against Lee into a campaign to root out alleged communists.


VOA Seoul bureau's Youmi Kim also contributed to this report

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs